HONOLULU -- Twice a week, about 100 people gather under a giant banyan tree at the foot of Diamond Head to closely follow the body motions and breathing of a martial arts master who believes ''health is wealth'' but it should be free.
It's clear they leave the one-hour classes refreshed and renewed. But those faithful who swear by the art of chi kung are making startling claims: A diabetic says he doesn't need insulin injections any more. A woman who could barely walk professes she can climb two dozen flights of stairs.
Whatever the reason for these changes, students of Master Luk Chun Bond say his free guidance has brought them to their fountain of youth.
Luk's students are mostly in their 60s, 70s and 80s, although a few are younger. They come from all economic and ethnic backgrounds, dressed in everything from jogging suits to business attire.
The classes in Kapiolani Park just off Waikiki Beach draw folks from the island of Oahu and all over the world. Tourists walking around the park often stop and watch for a few minutes before dropping their cameras to join in. And some attend the class each time they return to Hawaii.
They swear by the health benefits of the class and the ancient healing art that uses breathing and slow, subtle movements to channel ''chi,'' or a person's inner energy, to heal an ailment or injury.
Unlike other martial arts classes, chi kung has no jarring moves, no kicks, no punches, no black belts and no uniforms. It is simply a laid-back, comfortable atmosphere where people come to relieve stress and meditate. The students do a series of bending and squatting movements, raising their arms and holding a position. As they go through the movements, they appear to be praying, dancing, relaxing and stretching.
''All the moves should be done slowly and gracefully,'' Luk tells the students. ''Communicate with your body.''
Luk, a 52-year-old third-generation master from Hong Kong, says he conducts the free classes to carry on his grandfather's dreams of creating a better society and sharing the art. Luk makes his living running a Waikiki hair salon.
Charging people for his classes is against his family's policy.
''We have a very famous Chinese saying: 'If you have good health, you have everything,''' Luk said. ''Good health is a great asset. Health is wealth. Money can't buy it. It's priceless.''
All Luk asks in return is that his students practice chi kung for 30 minutes a day and eat a proper diet of natural foods.
''My father always said in all the dietary considerations, you have to be moderate,'' Luk said. ''Everything in moderation, including moderation itself.''
As the students methodically go through each exercise, Luk explains what part of the body each movement is intended to help -- everything from hemorrhoids to heart disease, he claims.
Rosanne Harrigan, chair of the Complementary and Alternative Medicine division at the University of Hawaii, said more clinical research needs to be completed before she accepts chi kung as having healing qualities.
''Much of traditional Chinese medicine is built on theories of balancing one's life and much like anything else, when you bring things into balance, energy flows better,'' she said. ''So from a traditional Chinese medicine point of view, it makes a lot of potential sense.''
No scientific studies affirm the therapies practiced by Luk, she said. ''However, people use them and we are hearing many positive testimonials about them.''
Eighty-nine-year-old Joe Kim has been coming to Luk's sessions for a couple of years. ''I'm more relaxed and my joints are looser,'' he said. ''I think it just counteracts old age.''
Syndy Soucy, a 67-year-old native of Massachusetts, has suffered from health problems all her life, including severe respiratory problems. For years, she has been on prescription medication and making regular trips to the doctor. Only after taking Luk's classes does she feel healthy.
''The class saved my life. It saved my life because I would've continued to get sicker and sicker and now I'm so healthy I can't believe it,'' she said. ''I couldn't breathe well enough to walk, I would count steps. I've been coming here for four years and my asthma is almost nil. Here I am so healthy, I cannot believe it.''
Terry Hasagawa, at 73, is convinced the class helped him get off insulin injections, which his doctor warned he would have to take for the rest of his life for diabetes.
''Chi kung, you just don't do once or twice a week,'' he said. ''You got to do it every day. You got to make it a part of your day. If you do that, then you'll find the results are there. I feel so much stronger.''
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